What Are We Supposed To Do With PWR BTTM’s Pageant?

What Are We Supposed To Do With PWR BTTM’s Pageant?

One of the Best Albums of the Year Has Been Plagued by Allegations of Sexual Misconduct, So is it Ok to Like It?


I feel strange even bringing this up, but here we go: about two weeks ago, the relatively unknown, vivaciously queer indie rock band PWR BTTM released their second studio album, Pageant. In certain spheres of the internet and within the LGBT community, it was perhaps one of the most anticipated releases of the year. Two days beforehand, however, news broke of allegations against PWR BTTM’s lead singer, Ben Hopkins.

The claims were that, on numerous occasions, Hopkins had acted in a physically and sexually inappropriate manner with fans and other musicians he had come into contact with. Jezebel then interviewed a woman, wishing to remain anonymous, who stated that in an encounter she had with Hopkins he began having sex with he without her permission, while also refusing to use protection. Not to be flippant, because these are some horrific, disgusting actions to hear about, but this is virtually the worst kind of PR a sex-positive queer band can experience around the time they plan on dropping their LP.

Not to pile on, but also here’s a photo of Hopkins from a few years back, smiling next to a swastika. Coulda happened to anyone, right? (Facebook)

Needless to say (and quite rightly), the allegations took their toll on the band. PWR BTTM had members and support bands quit their tour, were dropped from their management company and have had all of their music removed from virtually every streaming service available. In the midst of it all, they managed to issue perhaps one of the most misguided statements one could possibly make in response to a sexual abuse scandal, setting up a mediation via email and putting the onus on any of Hopkins victims to contact them directly. They then backtracked and instead simply insisted that, because the woman from the Jezebel interview had engaged in amicable contact with Hopkins since the alleged assault, they were gonna call bullshit. Y’know, the Cosby defence.

So clearly, from how I’ve framed all of this information, you can tell I’m pretty firmly in the camp of believing that Ben Hopkins is indeed a sexual predator, and good riddance to the dude. If you think otherwise (or don’t know, or care), fine. Here’s where I’m coming from, though: I had never heard of this band until a few months back, when the anti-Trump music project Our First 100 Days first kicked off. PWR BTTM contributed to this initiative, in fact being the second band to do so with their song “Vacation”. When I first heard it, I was floored, and immediately included it in our Songs of the Week column.

Following on from that, the news that PWR BTTM had a new LP that would be coming out in May made me pretty excited, and the release of the fantastic singles “Big Beautiful Day” and “Answer My Text” only made me more so. Right up until May 11th, I was happily anticipating Pageant, but then, well, the rest is very-recent history, and for the last two weeks I’ve been putting off listening to it at all. In some minor, very ineffective way I thought of it as a quiet form of protest but, if I’m being honest, my biggest fear was that it was going to be really good and I wasn’t gonna be sure how to deal with that.

My second biggest fear? Dying alone. (Syahida)

So last night, I finally decided to listen to it. Just once, all the way through with no interruption, while trying to be objective about it. Guess what? It’s really fuckin’ good. Pageant is 13 two-and-a-half minute tracks full of fiery glitter, ironic shimmies, screeching wails and, most importantly, an unreasonable amount of catchy hooks. Every song here has the potential to become an anthem, championing otherness and the choice to push, kick and scream to make space in the world for yourself rather than trying to fit into the box people will place you in.

I don’t wanna get too into it but, just briefly: “Silly” opens with a grandstanding, ’80s glam-rock guitar riff and kick drum that will pump your blood faster than your heart’s capacity. The stunning “Won’t” utilises Hopkins pitchy whine better than any song here, as he launches into the epic plea, “Take pity upon me”, as the song’s lonely bassline leads into a confetti punk wallop on the chorus, complete with a sagging string section. The title track, the best song here, marries a fidgety acoustic guitar and bumbling horn section with a heartbreaking tale of body dysmorphia on the long road to learning to accept yourself. All of it, once more, cohering into a superb album.

Wait for it… (Fox)

But – and here’s the thing – I really don’t know what to do with that information. Despite the previous two paragraphs, I feel incredibly uncomfortable throwing an endorsement behind something that was crafted to – it now seems – exploit the very culture one of its creators seems to prey on at will. I’m not gonna put it on shuffle at a house party and hope someone likes it enough to ask me who it is (’cause I’m cool like that) or send a link of one of their videos to a mate, imploring them to check it out. Jesus Christ, I would never want to give anyone the idea of actually going out and buying this thing and supporting the fucking artist (though I’m not even sure where you would find PWR BTTM’s music for purchase anymore).

Perhaps this is the point where I should address that none of the allegations against Hopkins have been proven yet and, despite the actions taken by PWR BTTM’s touring members and management, we’re all still in speculative territory here. That I might be getting overly worked up and complicating the base enjoyment of something with unproven claims amplified by our online culture of quick judgements and shaming. Fuck, even if you do believe Hopkins’ victims, maybe there’s an argument to be made that the artist should always remain separate from their art, not allowing the actions or implications of one to affect the other.

Of course, I’m gonna assume you’re a Chris Brown fan if that’s where you’re coming from. Jesus, is his haircut part of his community service? (TV Guide)

But that’s not what I want to get at. From my perspective, in my opinion, when one person accuses you of something, it’s at the very least troubling and the more voices that join the fray the less room there is for deniability. On top of that, not only do I believe that Ben Hopkins committed such horrendous actions, but he did so against the very people his music is meant to inspire and comfort. He betrayed the community that idolised him, that propped him up and allowed him and PWR BTTM to flourish. And then, just to further complicate matters, he made an unassailably great album while playing to and transcending that very crowd. That sits super weird with me.

Maybe the correct thing to do is ignore this album, or to listen to it and then just, y’know, not write about it. But I wanted to vent this feeling, to acknowledge that if I’m someone who writes about this sort of thing, and then I hear some music that I really like but know morally that I shouldn’t, that’s a strange sensation. On some level, it’d be incredibly hypocritical to not talk about this. I’d still be enjoying the music privately while maintaining the moral high ground outwardly.

You can’t lie about this sort of shit, is what I’m saying. If you like a movie, song, book or whatever that was made by a despicable person, you have to contend with that. There’s no right or wrong way to make that decision, to draw the line between your involuntary response to something and your ethical hangups. And when you want to write about pop culture in your spare time, that can mean trying to work out the difference between promoting something and gesturing to it, between honesty and self-flagellation.

Me listening to Pageant. (EMI Films)

I hope PWR BTTM hasn’t gained any more fans or more profitable exposure today but, if you were already a fan or you choose to listen to Pageant and finf you enjoy it, I hope you don’t feel bad about it. You probably still will, though.


You may have noticed there are no hyperlinks to any of PWR BTTM’s music in this piece. We at Popticon acknowledge that this is a fairly lowkey blog without much reach, but even so we didn’t want to offer too much in the way of promotion for the band, more than we already have. It leads us to a suggestion no respectable journalists (or, y’know, minor bloggers with delusions of grandeur) should ever offer to their readers, something we hope to never feel compelled to say again: if you really wanna hear Pageant in full, download the fucker. Don’t pay a cent for it. If you catch our drift. [wink emoji]

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